Updated: Feb 28
Numerous universities around the world have begun partial or full campus reopenings, as countries consider back-to-school strategies and a new safety culture. The academic year is beginning while the pandemic is still unfolding in various regions.
Explore approaches that focus on protecting the academic community.
China, the first country hit by Covid-19, was also among the first to start reopening its schools. Wuhan, where the outbreak originated, was an exception. At Wuhan University, final-year Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students only returned in June 2020. Students have to pass Covid-19 nucleic acid and antibody tests less than a week before their proposed return date and should not have traveled abroad or contacted people returning from abroad in the past two weeks, or traveled to Covid-19 ‘high risk’ regions. Students who return to campus before they have their test results are being quarantined in a designated area of the campus.
In other parts of Asia, students and faculty are gradually returning to classrooms, laboratories and dorms. If the spread of Covid-19 continues to be contained, most universities in Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore expect to conduct at least some in-person teaching in the 2020-2021 academic year.
A special case: Taiwan
Taiwan is one of the few countries where schools are functioning normally, with only a few weeks of disruption in February. Taiwan's universities faced unusual challenges because many of their students came from China and had returned to campus after the Lunar New Year holidays in late January. However, strict safety guidelines have proven effective. Here are some of them:
Creation of a task force at each university
School-based risk screening considering travel history, occupation, contacts, and clusters;
Measures on self-management of health and quarantine;
General hygiene measures (including wearing masks indoors);
Principles of ventilation and sanitization;
A process for reporting suspected cases.
A class is suspended if one student or staff member in it tests positive. A school closes for 14 days if it has two or more confirmed cases.
In a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine, the co-authors say that: “Taiwan's experience suggests that, under certain circumstances, safely reopening colleges and universities this fall may be feasible with a combination of strategies that include containment (access control with contact tracing and quarantine) and mitigation (hygiene, sanitation, ventilation, and social distancing) practices.”
In the US, colleges and universities are adopting various strategies to manage the number of students on campus and online. Harvard University is allowing some students to live on campus this fall amid the coronavirus, but all classes (graduate and undergraduate) will be taught online. While most students will live at home, Harvard plans to bring up to 40% of its undergraduates to campus, including all first-year students “to enable them to benefit from a supported transition to college-level academic work and to begin to build their Harvard relationships with faculty and peers.” Meanwhile, Stanford has said freshmen and sophomores will be on campus when classes start in the fall, while juniors and seniors will study remotely from home. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania said that both graduate and undergraduate programs will be almost entirely online.
Many universities in the country are asking students to sign behavioral contracts that oblige them to wear face masks in public, to be tested regularly for the coronavirus, and to limit travel and socializing, the New York Times reported.
In Europe, universities are generally embracing a hybrid approach where training has a combination of on-campus and online delivery. However, those who prefer and are able to attend in-person classes should get accustomed to a new experience. IE Business school, for example, implemented a series of rules and measures. Here are some of them:
Wearing a mask is compulsory on campus.
Distribution of individual hand sanitizer dispensers.
Recommended distance 1.5 meters.
Revised entry and exit protocols (the professor is always the last to enter the classroom and the first to exit).
Installation of thermal imaging cameras.
Desks cleaned after each class.
Thorough UV disinfection at night.
To some extent or another, universities around the world are opening their campuses. One thing is certain: faculty, staff and students will have to embrace a new health and safety culture on campus.